I’m all for genre mashups — horror comedies or sci-fi mysteries can be a lot of fun — but if you start chucking more and more genres into your blender, the danger that the end product could end up becoming a tasteless soup increases exponentially. With writers/directors Jonathan and Josh Baker’s Kin, we get a film that has elements of family drama, crime drama, a thriller mystery aspect, some science fiction, all wrapped up in a road picture. There is no saying such an assembly of components couldn’t work, it would just take some deft writing and sharp directing. Sadly, the Bakers overreached a little for their directorial debut, and thus Kin is more a mess than a mashup.
Kin is based on the short film “Bag Man” where a young African American boy comes into possession of a very high-tech gun — we have no idea where the gun came from or how the kid came to have it — and while out one day for some target practice, he runs into some thugs who are about to execute some hapless dude, so the boy uses the gun to basically vaporize the bad guys, the end. The short is about fifteen minutes in length, and is a slow lyrical little mood piece with some cool visual effects. Unfortunately, the Bakers forgot that if you are going to expand a short film to feature length, you kind of have to put more thought into it, and thus we have the key problem with their feature film version, a lot more happens, but none of it means much.
This film centers on fourteen year-old Elijah “Eli” Solinski (Myles Truitt), who lives in Detroit with his stern adoptive father Hal (Dennis Quaid), and though he gets suspended from school for fighting, he is not a bad kid. Eli spends his spare time scavenging copper wiring from abandoned buildings, his dad being a little too frugal with allowance, and during one particular hunt he comes across what looks to be the aftermath of a nasty firefight, with armored corpses and high-tech weaponry strewn all about, and when he later returns to the site — having initially run off scared — he is surprised to find almost all evidence of the battle gone, but he does discover a strange futuristic weapon that had been left behind.
Life gets a little more complicated when Eli’s newly paroled older brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor), Hal’s biological son, returns home from prison with a $60,000 debt — the cost of protection during his years behind bars — that local crime lord Taylor Balik (James Franco) wants to be paid back immediately, or else bad things will happen to not only Jimmy but Eli and Hal as well. Things go from bad to worse when Jimmy and Balik’s gang break into the safe at Hal’s job site only to be interrupted by Hal himself, with the resulting confrontation leading to the death of Hal and Taylor’s brother. Needless to say, Taylor doesn’t take this well and vows vengeance.
It’s at this point that Kin becomes a “road movie” with Jimmy lying to Eli, hiding the fact that their dad has been murdered and the killers are after them, and the two of them head across country with sixty thousand dollars of stolen loot. Of course, the threat of a crazed Detroit crime lord isn’t the only thing hanging over the heads of our two protagonists, there are also a pair of futuristic soldiers that seem very interested in tracking down Eli and the missing gun. Will the revenge-fueled Taylor find them first? Who exactly are these strange soldiers, and what is their agenda? Can Eli ever forgive his brother for getting their father killed? All these questions and more are kind of answered, but don’t expect to finish your viewing of Kin feeling too satisfied, as the Bakers clearly were planning a sequel — with the last act throwing in a pretty obvious twist — and being the film bombed theatrically, there is little to no chance of us ever getting a proper resolution.
• Eli is never given any real motivation for taking this piece of clearly advanced weaponry home and hiding it under his bed. Lucky for us the screenwriters thought to send killers after him so that having the gun works out.
• Eli is a little too gullible when his brother tells him that their dad wants the two of them to go off on a road trip together, especially when Eli had heard his dad kick Jimmy out of the house the night before.
• The high-tech gun only functions when Eli is using it, could that be a clue?
• Eli and Jimmy make a pit stop at one of those PG 13 strip clubs that only exists in these types of movies, where strippers don’t actually get naked.
• You can apparently blow the crap out of a strip club, with your high-tech space gun, yet not have to worry about the owner calling the cops, because of course he’s crooked too.
• Our pair befriend a stripper by the name of Milly (Zoë Kravitz), who falls into the Hollywood movie category of “Hooker with a Heart of Gold.”
Best and Worst Scene in the Movie: The final act deals with Franco’s character learning that Jimmy and Eli have been picked up by the cops, and are being held at the county police station, and what does this vengeance-driven crime lord decide to do? Does he call it a day and head home? Does he wait until they are being transferred to the county jail and attack the vehicle they are in? No, because any of those would make sense. Instead, he has his gang attack the fucking police station, as if they were remaking Assault on Precinct 13. This makes the idea of super guns that can flip over a car, and explode people like a popped zit, seem downright plausible by comparison, and that not one member of Taylor’s gang said “Fuck this for a bag chips” and takes off, makes it all even more unbelievable. Thank God those two future dudes eventually show up to try and make sense of things.
You’d think a road movie about a kid with a high-tech gun, one who is on the run from various villains, would be pretty exciting, but somehow the filmmakers fail to create any sense of tension. The nature of those futuristic soldiers is not revealed until the end, so their “threat level” is never made clear, and the gang led by James Franco’s crime lord character, though murderous and evil, are just so poorly conceived that they become walking-exploding punchlines and nothing more. Scenes just drift along lackadaisically from one into another, with no real sense of urgency or danger, and this lethargic pacing is only relieved when we get to one of those brief action moments, which they themselves are less than perfectly thought out, that all culminates in a non-ending. This movie would have worked fairly well if it had been the first episode of a Netflix series, but as a standalone movie — ’cause we ain’t getting a sequel — it isn’t something I can readily recommend.
Movie Rank - 5/10
Jonathan and Josh Baker managed to put together a stylish looking little sci-fi thriller road movie, with some fairly decent performances from the cast, but the film is hamstrung by unrealistic characters, a lacklustre script, terrible pacing and a rather predictable twist that just brings up more questions that we will never get an answer to.